The recent pandemic presents many challenges for older Americans. Since seniors are high-risk for infection, it is important to practice social distancing. However, this is almost impossible for those who employ an in-home caretaker.

This pandemic is testing the limits of the U.S. healthcare system, as hospitals face staffing and equipment shortages. The problem is worse for home healthcare workers, as they are among the lowest-paid medical professionals in an underfunded field. For these marginalized caretakers and their charges, the coronavirus may have devastating effects.

Seniors left without support

In states like New York, healthcare workers are exempt from movement restrictions and quarantine measures. Exemption enables doctors and emergency personnel to keep operating, but with few additional resources. This lack puts medical professionals, especially those who operate in a client’s home, at considerable risk.

For nurse Elizabeth Wilson, 63, her part-time work caring for an 83-year-old had to be put on hold when her client’s husband began to show symptoms. Elizabeth’s employer could only offer her gloves for protection. Being high-risk herself, Elizabeth stayed home, hoping that her clients could manage on their own. Later, her union told her to no longer visit clients exhibiting symptoms. Now, Elizabeth is without pay, unable to file for unemployment and her client is without essential care.

Another nurse in Massachusetts reported that she couldn’t provide medical care to a couple in their 60s because they had a more pressing concern — they were nearly out of food. She had to purchase groceries for them instead.

Stay connected, stay protected

Families with loved ones in home care situations can help by virtually connecting with older family members. Teaching them how to use connectivity tech and checking in daily can help seniors maintain their home and create a safe space for caretakers. Buying disinfecting wipes and gloves for use in the home can help minimize one’s risk of exposure. For those with loved ones whose care is uncertain, seeking the help of a lawyer experienced with elder care may reveal a legal recourse.